Readers of this newspaper have little time for the Bali Animal Welfare Association (BAWA), a dog and cat shelter in Ubud run by foreign residents that lately has positioned itself at the forefront of our deadly rabies battle. It is not because our readers don’t care about the plight of homeless dogs taken in by caring hearts; it is because they believe, as we do, that such a pastime-focused endeavour has no place in trying to combat a two-year-long crisis that – at last count – has killed 124 Balinese.
Were BAWA, backed in its rabies initiative with funding from overseas animal groups, advocating an effective manner to eliminate rabies from Bali, people would be applauding. Instead what we are seeing is a reader revolt against BAWA’s entrenched position of only vaccinating 70 percent of Bali’s stray dogs – the watershed where it is believed the virus cannot effectively replicate in feral dogs – and hoping for the best. The dog shelter is fervently against culling strays, a method previously and sporadically employed by the Bali authorities, who last year caved into BAWA’s lobbying and let it begin injecting strays.
What many readers writing to this newspaper object to is the sheer number of stray dogs on our streets that, it seems, no one is prepared to take responsibility for, least of all their owners. A sizeable number of these regrettably uncared-for canines are visibly infected with skin and other afflictions, and many scavenge for scraps or make a beeline for freshly placed Hindu offerings, which contain slivers of rice and other foods – meant to please the Gods, not to part-feed roaming strays.
One reader wrote: “There are still a LOT of stray dogs around the island of Bali. A lot of them are carrying severe skin deceases, which is very dangerous as they will transfer the deceases to other, healthy dogs. I live around Jimbaran. At the famous Jimbaran Beach with a lot of seafood restaurants, there also are a lot of sick dogs wandering around. Why doesn’t the government take action to get those dogs out from the beach? And if you go around the Bukit you will see also a lot of stray dogs. Dogs with severe skin deceases should be taken from the streets IMMEDIATELY; even the local people have to take action.”
Last week we heard more fuzzy figures from the Animal Husbandry Department, which is working on the inoculation scheme with BAWA. The rate with which the department issues data claiming the job is almost done (weeks after it began), revising the data to suggest otherwise and then announcing something altogether different is alarming. It portends a pie-in-the-sky approach where hope rather than reason is the benchmark. The department said we’re winning the war against rabies, as tests on a handful of villages showed mostly no rabies infection. There was no word on the thousands of other villages, where the virus is most likely rampant, given the high island-wide incidence of dog bites and subsequent fatalities. Following last week’s announcement, BAWA felt compelled to make one of its own – perhaps to bolster jab-team morale and convince itself: We’ll keep on vaccinating till the job is done.
That’s great. But it won’t work in ridding rabies from Bali, because there are just too many dogs – around half a million. Two more people died last week and more foreign media outlets reported on the crisis, potentially damaging our main money-earner, tourism. The streets, meanwhile, remain clogged with hazardous strays.
Readers have little time for BAWA’s hobby-scheme (not one has yet to even report seeing inoculation teams in their own local area); and our patience has gone beyond being tested.